The Valley of Dead Air
Hawaiian writer Gary Pak’s short story “The Valley of Dead Air” begins with the death of a native man, Jacob Hookano, and the horrible smell that invades the Waiola Valley. The smell is the central metaphor of the story; its arrival and departure are central to understanding Pak’s purpose. All of this is wrapped up in a story that is otherwise comic in its presentation. Ultimately, the smell is every wrongdoing that has been perpetrated on the native Hawaiian people.
At first, the residents think that a Kona wind has brought in the smell from a different part of the island. Joseph Correa, however, suspects that the government is somehow behind the smell. But mysterious ghostly laughter that comes from Jacob Hookano’s house leads everyone to suspect that he is somehow responsible for the smell, as an act of revenge.
The local residents of Waiola Valley become convinced that Hookano has cursed them with this smell. In order to get rid of this curse, they arrange for public confessions of any wrongs that may have been done to Hookano while he was alive. As the confessions take place, many people come to believe that the smell comes from the fact that the Locals (whites) were never able to truly form a connected community with this native man. Hookano is upset because no one ever paid any attention to him in life, and has cursed the Valley in death. Darrell Mineda states, “Maybe das why he got all salty. Nobody pay attention to him. Nobody talk story with him. Nobody go bother him”. Another resident, Joseph Correa, makes a personal confession that he once cheated Hookano and stole a woman away from him. Correa told this woman’s parents that Hookano did not have a penis.
However, we learn that the unspoken guilt of the town comes from the fact that all of the land of the Valley once belonged to Hookano’s family. This land was stolen away from the Hookano family in the same way that Correa stole his wife away from Jacob. Native Hawaiians were “castrated” by the whites and displaced from the lands they had inhabited for centuries. This idea emerges in a conversation between Mineda and Earl Fritzhugh:
Somebody tol’ me all dah land in dis valley used to be [Jacob’s] family’s land, long time ago. Den dah Cox family wen come in and take dah land away from his family. Somet’ing about Jacob’s family not paying dah land tax or water tax or someting li’dat, and dah haole wen pay instead.